There is no denying that Wimbledon is iconic for tennis fans the world over. The strawberries and cream. The all-white outfits. The royals in attendance. The grass courts.
As the only one of the four majors to be played on grass, Wimbledon holds a special place in many tennis fans’ hearts, and it leaves many fans wondering about the logistics of those beautiful green courts.
How do you make a grass tennis court? A grass court is grown and cultivated in the offseason and cut to specific lengths over a series of months in order to promote peak tennis playing conditions.
Standardize the Size
The courts at Wimbledon obviously have their sizes already set, but the first step a fan who is looking to grow their own court must first find a spot that is: (a) flat and level and (b) big enough.
Tennis courts are 78 feet long from baseline to baseline and 36 feet wide at their widest point, which allows for playing doubles and singles tennis. These markings are made by a specialized white compound at Wimbledon, and these dimensions are what tennis players can expect when they step out onto any tennis court.
There is also space around the field of play for players to enter and exit their games, as well as to sit and stand between games and sets. Additionally in this space, there is a place for a referee to judge the match and spots for any ball collectors to wait to retrieve the balls.
For those growing their own, these spaces around the edges of the playing court may not need to be as wide as the ones at Wimbledon, but it is advisable to have a section for players so that the only thing happening on the actual court is playing.
Choosing the Grass
Much like on golf courses, the grass choice on a tennis court is of paramount importance. Wimbledon uses 100% perennial ryegrass mix, which thrives in the cold season in the UK.
The Sports Turf Research Institute in Yorkshire, UK, partnered with the famed tennis club and determined in 2001 to make a change to this traditional venue. Before that year, the grass was a mix of ryegrass and red fescue in a 70/30 ratio, but this new ryegrass mixture has a higher density, which helps to improve bounce.
Picking grass that suits your weather conditions is crucial. Since tennis is played most often in the spring and throughout the summer, you’ll need to invest in a hearty breed of grass that can grow through the winter and be ready for games as the weather starts to warm up.
Wimbledon’s grass is planted in September in order to be ready for the big tournament in June, with a staff of 15 full-time groundskeepers deployed to keep the grass in tip-top tennis shape. The number of court carers goes up to 28 when the Championship is being played.
Keep It Short and Sweet
At Wimbledon, the court is mowed to a precise eight millimeters. This means the grass is only as tall as a stack of eight American pennies, which are one millimeter each!
During the tournament, the grass is mowed every day to ensure continuity throughout the games, sets, and matches, so the first players to volley back and forth do so on the same length of grass as the finals.
The practice fields receive all of the same care, attention, and testing as the playing courts so that players know they’re able to transition from practice to play with minimal differences in the surface.
The length of the grass is a huge determinant of how the game is played. As tennis fans know, grass tennis courts tend to play faster than clay surfaces, and that is partly because of the interaction of the ball and the grass.
If you’ve ever thrown a ball for your dog and it just stuck in the grass waiting for Fido to find it, that grass is far too long for a game of tennis. Be prepared to mow short and often if you’re growing your own tennis court.
The tennis courts at Wimbledon are not simply planted into whatever soil was on that hallowed ground. Instead, the grass is grown on top of a seedbed made up of pebbles to aid with drainage, as well as coarse soil and drain pipes.
This too is cultivated to provide optimal conditions for grass growth, and after each tournament at Wimbledon is finished, that grass is mowed almost down to this seedbed.
After that intense shearing of the sward (aka an area of short grass), the groundskeepers till and reseed the courts with a literal ton of seed, which is then topped off with fertilizer and covered with a specialty seed blanket to encourage growth.
Mowing to Make the Most of the Courts
After that initial work to regrow the stuff, it is time to, of course, start cutting it again. The strategic schedule of mowing that takes place in the fall helps ensure that the surface is appropriately firm and level before adding topsoil, which is dragged to again make sure the surface is perfectly level.
From March to the beginning of the tournament, Wimbledon court carers work to bring the length of the court down about a millimeter a week, cutting it down to almost half of its full winter height.
In time for the Members’ Day at the beginning of May, the courts are marked, and that day also allows the grass to begin adjusting to the stress of the tournament.
Watching the Water
Remember that the surface underneath the grass is also carefully controlled, and beginning in June, the crews begin to regulate the water levels to keep the soil dry and hard enough for the players.
Water is also managed with precision during the tournament itself, with daily measuring taking place on the grass to keep everything just as dry as it needs to be.
If you’ve ever watched a Wimbledon match-up on a rainy day, you may notice staff running to cover the court with a tarp.
Since the groundskeepers obviously can’t regulate the rain, the courts are covered to prevent saturation of the surface that the staff has worked so hard to perfect over the months ahead of the tournament.
The History of the Lawn in Tennis
When the game that we know today was developing in Europe, there were two defined types of tennis: real tennis and lawn tennis. Real tennis was played inside, and lawn tennis was, not surprisingly, played on a lawn.
However, not every lawn tennis court had the resources or time to cultivate these labor-intensive grass fields, and while the majority of lawn tennis courts used to be grown from grass, many clubs nowadays use different surfaces that are easier to maintain, withstand wear much better than grass, and have a more consistent ball bounce.
Growing a tennis court is no easy feat. From picking the correct seed to understanding how to foster winter growth before mowing and water to precise levels, grass courts require many full-time jobs that are more than just a monetary investment.
Also Read: How To Make a Clay Court